The criminalisation of homelessness in Hungary

Brief summary of the amendment of the Law on Misdemeanours

For Hungarian version please click here. Magyar nyelven elérhető itt:  

Homelessness can be criminalised in Hungary since 2011. As these provisions were included in the Fundamental Law in 2013, since then the Constitutional Court cannot examine the constitutionality of the laws punishing homelessness.

First the Fundamental Law, then the Law on Misdemeanours were amended by the parliament in June 2018. The amendments take effect on 15 October.

The most significant changes introduced by the amendments:

Municipalities no longer have the power to decide about the criminalisation of “residing on public premises for habitation” on their local territories, but now it is punishable all over the country.

Official proceedings are not initiated against those, who accept the offered social care.

The petty offence of “infringing the rules of residing on public premises for habitation” is no longer punishable only by public service, but also confinement.

During the proceedings the police ensures that the “offender is clean and is provided with clean clothes”, which can potentially mean the forced cleaning of the person.

The procedure is conducted by the court, following the police’s preparatory (quasi investigative) work.

In contrast to the general rules, it is compulsory to immediately detain someone and bring to the court within 72 hours, if the person was already three times “warned” about “infringing the rules of residing on public premises for habitation”.

The offender can be kept in custody up until the legally binding closure of the case, which can be drawn out even to one and a half month.

For those who are found to be offenders by the court twice within 6 months, the punishment can only be confinement (1-60 days), and not warning or public service.

In contrast to the general rules, the confinement must be given effect immediately after the decision is made.

Custody is carried out in the police’s holding cell, confinement in the institutions of the Prison Service.

The aim of the regulation is to make public homelessness invisible, and to force homeless people to shelters under the threat of confinement. However, the social services institutions, the authorities, and the organisation of Prison Service are not ready and do not have adequate capacities for accepting several thousand people, and to treat social problems with criminal policy tools. Thus, a probable impact of the amendment will be that people living on public premises will be forced out of the cities, to marginal areas, where they will hardly or not at all be able to access public services.